The Hornets beat the Mavericks; lead series 1-0

Last night at the Arena was incredible.

Everything felt pretty much the same before the game. The same road led to the Arena. I parked in the same spot on O'Keefe. The Buzz Fest wasn't much different save for an extra beer stand giving out smaller beers than the other beer stand. And I talked to the same cool people outside that I usually talk to. It seemed like we were all there for just another ballgame, like we had been all season long.

But then I stepped into the building and got to my seat, and it quickly became apparent that this one was going to be very different. First clues were on the sideline, where Hubie Brown was doing his analyst thing and further down you could see Saints' owner Tom Benson seated beside George Shinn. Double take – still real. Next I noticed the "NBA Playoffs" logos plastered on the hardwood, and the 16-to-1 countdown up in front of the scorer's table. Then Irvin Mayfield delivered a fine anthem and the Mavs got their asses booed real bad during introductions.

Right before the tip, Shinn took the mic at center court…

"Nobody thought we would come back; they were wrong. Nobody thought we'd have fan support; they were wrong. Nobody thought we'd make the playoffs; they were wrong again. And absolutely nobody expected us to win 56 games in the toughest conference in the NBA…"

He may have said more, but the roar from the crowd drowned it out. Shinn then turned and pointed to the rafters, where our Southwest division championship banner was unveiled. It only got louder.

And then it was game time…

The Hornets beat the Mavericks

Let's dive into some notes, fresh from 305…

  • Final score was 104-92. Linkage: recap | box score
  • The Hornets came out and played some pretty shitty basketball in the first half. David West missed his first four shots, nobody wanted to take the ball in the lane, we kept putting Dallas on the line for easy points, gave up numerous second chances and watched Dirk Nowitzki rain jumpers all over us. Basically, both teams played as if experience mattered. The seasoned Mavs calmly picked their spots on offense and played solid D, while the fresh-faced Hornets looked like the shy kid at his first day of school. Yeah, the shy kid who wets himself before recess.

    After Josh Howard nailed a late three-pointer, both teams went to the break with the Mavs in control, 52-40.

  • Everything changed in the third quarter. First off, the Hornets defense stepped up big-time, holding the Mavs to just four made field goals in the period. Everybody stepped up the intensity, and the rotations were phenomenal, perhaps the best I've seen all season. Hornets super-fan Larry Lane said it best with his sign that read "Hornets Defense: Global Swarming."
  • Secondly, Chris Paul, who had started to get aggressive offensively just before halftime, kept going at Jason Kidd and put together 15 points and 5 assists in the third quarter. It was the stuff of legend.
  • Also key in the third quarter was ruffling Nowitzki. David West clobbered him on a jumper about three minutes in and there was no call. Then with 5:36 to go in the period, Tyson got right up in Nowitzki's face as the German caught the ball on the wing, then fouled him as he tried to go baseline. After the whistle, Chandler offered Dirk a shove. It was a definite push, but Dirk milked it as much as he could, flying out of bounds as if he'd been hit by an asteroid. A deserved technical on Chandler, but the point was made, and if the crowd wasn't in the game before, it definitely was now.
  • So the tide had turned and a massive put-back jam by Tyson at the end of the third capped a 36-20 quarter for the Hornets, and we led 76-72 heading into the final stanza.
  • The fourth quarter saw more intense defense by the Hornets. After Dirk shook loose for a layup 20 seconds in, the Mavs would not score again until a Jerry Stackhouse bucket at the 6:39 mark. They would not score their 80th point until just more than three minutes remained in the ballgame, and the Hornets had raced out to a 15-point lead. Game over.
  • Chris Paul was obviously the star on the night. He finished with 35 points (15-23 FGs), 10 assists, 4 steals, 3 rebounds and just one turnover. The Mavericks tried to trap him numerous times in the backcourt and off the high picks like they did so successfully last Wednesday, but CP and his teammates were much better prepared for it and escaped with ease.
  • Jannero Pargo was perhaps our best player on the defensive end in Game 1. He locked down Jason Terry early, then switched over and handled Jason Kidd pretty good in the fourth quarter. Dude was hustling his ass off out there. He had a miserable shooting night (1-of-9 for 5 points) but I'd still consider it one of his better performances in recent weeks. Besides the defense, he had some nice drives and kicks in the fourth quarter to set up big buckets for Peja.
  • The Mavs shot just 33% for the game, with Jason Kidd being their only player to make at least half his shots (3-of-5 for 11 points). Nowitzki was killing us in the first half, but West and Chandler did a much better job on him after the break, sticking much closer and playing him more physical. In the fourth quarter, Dirk made that early layup, then missed his final three shots, one of those getting blocked by West. Nowitzki finished the game with 31 points (9-21 FGs) and 10 rebounds.
  • As mentioned, West struggled with his shooting early, but definitely came alive later on. He finished with 23 points (8-18 FGs), 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocks. The Mavs were doubling down on him hard in the first half, and he didn't have a lot of room to work, but Chris going off in the second half opened up a lot more opportunities for him.
  • Tyson had probably his best game since January. Dude was nothing short of beastly out there, grabbing 15 boards and throwing home 10 points. He caught the few usual oops from CP and rammed home a couple of put-backs too. He completely outplayed Dallas pivot Erick Dampier, who finished with 4 points and 4 rebounds in 27 minutes.
  • Peja didn't get loose a helluva lot in the game, but when he did, he made the Mavs pay with 4-of-8 shooting from deep, and 14 points overall. His triple with 1:16 left in the game restored a 15-point lead and lifted the roof off the Arena.
  • The crowd was mighty fine for Game 1. Just when you thought it couldn't possibly get any louder, everyone found a higher decibel and your ear drums ruptured. I was enjoying the atmosphere so much that I didn't really care when I couldn't make out the phone number a Honeybee whispered in my ear during the fourth quarter.
  • Gotta give love to Bonzi of course. He came off the bench with 8 points (4-8 FGs), 5 boards, 2 assists and a steal in 21 minutes. Solid like a turtle shell on both ends of the floor. Great trade, Jeff Bower.

Okay, that win was super and awesome and fantastic and everything, but since we're the higher seed and it took place on our home floor, best not to get too carried away with it. Lots more basketball left to be played in the series.

I'll probably get into it deeper in another post before these teams meet again on Tuesday, but there are a bunch of things the Hornets need to be wary of ahead of Game 2. For starters, we've got fouls and free throws. Peja and Bonzi had their minutes limited because of foul trouble, and as a team we gave up 38 free throws to the best foul shooting team in the NBA. It seems Josh Howard was also hampered by a sore right knee that he brought with him to New Orleans, and a left ankle tweak that he picked up during the game. I'd expect him to be a much bigger factor as the series progresses.

That will do for now. Back later with a news wrap.

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